546 kilos of waste in your living room: what if augmented reality came to the rescue of the environment?


Our relationship with the environment is often biased by social desirability: today, for example, it is difficult to publicly declare oneself against the preservation of the environment. While the vast majority of respondents therefore say they are in favor of protecting the planet, this does not always translate into the adoption of more virtuous lifestyles, more active support for policies, organizations or industries that respect the the environment.

In other words, we continue to observe a deviation: the actual behavior does not does not correspond to the declared attitudes.

One explanation for the inertia specific to these behaviors lies in the abstract nature of the consequences of our actions on the planet: they are distant geographically, in time, uncertain, and do not always affect the populations with which we are close. We are talking here about "psychological distance" : individuals feel less affected by events perceived as “more distant” in spatial, temporal, social or hypothetical terms. The phenomenon play full on environmental issues.

In addition to incentive or binding measures, it therefore seems important to help individuals better understand the environmental impact of their decisions by making their consequences, often remote in space or time, visible and salient in the "here". and the "now". This would help them to adopt more virtuous behaviors, and encourage them to press for the implementation of pro-environmental policies. Studies have shown that a good way to promote all of this is to provide anchorage in a familiar environment and real. What if augmented reality tools, by reducing the psychological distance, helped us?

This is the idea at the heart of the project Be Aware. It was designed by teams from the center of the National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology (Inria) of the University of Bordeaux, the experimental economics laboratory of the Burgundy School of Business in Dijon (LESSAC), and the International Center for Research on Environment and Development in Paris.

Everyone has their own giant trash can

Let's consider objects that are well known to everyone: household waste. In the city as in the countryside, our waste does not accumulate in or in front of our home. Our cleaning services are working properly, with weekly collections that give everyone the opportunity to easily get rid of their waste.

This situation, however comfortable it may be, does not allow us to visualize the extent of the waste we produce. In France, according to Eurostat figures for 2019, an individual produces on average 546 kilos of household waste per year. But how to represent it?

It is precisely because it is complex to form a representation of this figure that it is difficult to encourage individuals to reduce this quantity. Some actions are already working in this direction. In Lyon, for example, as part of the Global Getaway project, an ephemeral work by the artist Friendly Liu, representing a giant trash can was exposed to passers-by, in an attempt to help individuals reflect on their waste production.

In our view, it is possible to do even better by showing everyone sa giant trash can. In our project, we use “situated visualization” tools (embedded data representations): statistical data is displayed near the physical spaces, objects or people to which they refer. Thus, we can, for example, display in a familiar environment the quantities of waste that an individual produces per week, per year, or over his entire life.

Made possible by augmented reality, they allow viewers to interpret the cumulative figures in context. It's about pushing them to take action in the physical world in response to information obtained.

Educate and push to action

Our first lab tests showed that with these visualizations, the emotional response turns out to be greater than when the data is communicated in a more traditional way with figures, graphs or images displayed on a computer screen. Participants further found the waste visualizations believable, realistic, informative, and reliable, and appear to factor them into their decision.

The development of these tools on a larger scale does not seem insane: they are simple, easily adaptable to everyone's consumption, and understandable by all. Technical and equipment constraints are also minimal: in some cases, simple smartphones can be used to create the illusion of augmented reality.

In other cases, even more immersive devices, such as augmented reality headsets, can expose hundreds of participants to meaningful and impactful user experiences. Our tools are easy to use in the classroom, and in this sense, augmented reality will allow us to better explain to students and high school students the issues associated with the mechanism of sharing a “common good”.

Pro-environmental action is directly linked to a profound change in our lifestyles. This change can only take place if it is understood, accepted, accompanied, and encouraged. The new educational approaches in this area, such as those we offer with augmented reality, seem to constitute an interesting opportunity to be seized for the construction of a sustainable, equitable and desirable future.

Angela Sutan, Professor in behavioral economics, Burgundy School of Business ; Ivan Ajdukovic, Associate Professor, Burgundy School of Business et Martin Hatchet, Director of recherche, Inria

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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